I thought he would be an old man with a flowing beard and a receding hairline but he turned out to be a youthful, suave man with a fashionable stubble.
One would also have expected to find him atop some remote hilltop cabin instead of this bustling downtown street that he said he'd meet me at.
'But how would I find you in that mad rush?' I had objected.
'Don't worry,' he chuckled on the phone, 'It's my job to find people.'
Smartass! I had thought. Another hoax.
In the chaos of traffic, amid the frustrated cab drivers honking like it was the end of the world, he suddenly appeared in front of the car and, next moment, he was in the passenger seat, flashing his contagious smile.
Somehow, I couldn't help but smile back.
'How do I know it's really you?'
'Look around.' His youthful eyes motioned towards the street.
He was alongside everyone and everything out there.
Same dress, same looks, same smile.
Cloning wasn't such a hotshot, cutting-edge technology after all.
I had finally met the phenomenon called 'the times'.
The traffic had started to move. I put some pressure on the pedal.
'Thought you'd be much older than what you look.' I commented.
'They all do. But shouldn't I be aging closer to the end of time?' His well-formed teeth flashed with the words.
'Hmmm.' I mused, 'So the world still has a long way to go?'
'Who knows? Haven't you heard of dying young?'
His smile still wouldn't leave that face.
The traffic was distracting, I needed a more private place with him.
'Mind if we drive to the park?'
'Any place is fine with me.'
We sat down on a secluded bench. There weren't many people in the park anyway, although he was everywhere in a discreet manner. Alongside the plants, trees, birds, the benches.
Looks like privacy is just a state of unawareness; one is never alone.
I thought about the closed door when I went to the washroom, and of the sweating, passionate couples sneaking in bed.
Here he was, sitting on the bench with me, nonchalant in his manners, and yet so dutifully engrossed with his given task.
'When you mentioned about dying young, was it the earth or you?'
'Both.' He said matter-of-factly.
'And this doesn't bother you?'
'You have your choices, you have desires. Phenomenon simply implements the tasks, obey the commands.'
'Heartless, huh?' I looked straight into his eyes.
'Logically... With a thinking mind, a tsunami would turn into a rebel against the ordained. With a feeling heart, the angel of death would be a sulking recluse.'
I made a mental note; he had intelligence but not the feelings.
Robotics was invented a long time ago.
'So what governs you. I mean, what exactly are your duties?'
'I simply implement what is destined by fate. No choices, no discretion.' He looked towards the water pond.
'That should apply to the life forms, but what about the objects? Buildings, cars, nations? They are governed by fate too?' I asked.
'Feeling smart huh? No, not in the manner that you take it. But don't they all have a life cycle of their own?' He flashed his smile again, 'Times change for them too.'
I thought of the collapsed buildings, the rusted cars in the junkyard, and the decaying, ruined, nations.
'Wow!' I exclaimed. 'And us? Why do we have to be subjected to your test of times? I mean, aren't we intelligent enough to exercise our own will?'
'Wow?' He mimicked me with his own exclamation. 'You guys really think you just happened to 'be' and would just turn to 'un-be'? Get real, my friend, there's more to the cycle of life than being an accident of living and dying.'
'Are you turning Aristotle on me?' I asked.
'No.., more like Einstein really,' he smiled, 'everything is relative.'
'So while we accidentally get hit by a stumbling brick, our kin die due to events not triggered by their own doing, even when each one of us goes through the turmoil of life, you simply turn the pages.' I felt deep resentment towards him.
'Aren't you forgetting the smiles that light up your face when your child is born, the satisfaction of having the spouse who shares it all with you, the joys you encounter even after the rigors of painful failures? That's changing times too.'
'Okay, but while we sit passively on this roller coaster of life, you simply flash that smile and take us for the ride?'
'You never got it, did you?' He grinned at me, and rose to leave, 'You remain constant while it's ‘the times’ that change. I am my own biggest casualty.'
The revelation numbed me.
How could he still keep that smile on his face?
As he disappeared from everywhere, I wondered if he really was as heartless as I first thought.